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Stein, John A., 1832-1885



  • Existence: March 3, 1832 - August 14, 1885

Biographical Information

John A. Stein, lawyer, soldier, poet, politician, and Purdue University trustee, was born on a farm in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. He left the farm at the age of fourteen to work as a clerk for a Philadelphia firm that supplied goods to the military. By the age of eighteen he was studying law in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Two years later Stein moved to Lafayette, Indiana. Upon his arrival he continued to study law under Godlove S. Orth, a prominent local attorney. At the age of twenty-one he was admitted to the bar.

Stein served during the Civil War as a member of General Thomas A. Morris’s staff. At the beginning of the war Morris was appointed Indiana’s Quartermaster General, but was quickly reassigned a brigadier general and given a field command. Coming back from the War, Stein was immediately thrown into state politics and was elected to the Indiana State Senate. It was as a senator where his connection with the future Purdue University began.

Beginning with the legislative session of 1863 there was competition throughout the state for the establishment of a new agricultural college. In 1862, Justin Smith Morrill, a congressman from Vermont introduced legislation that changed the course of American higher education. The Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act, established means for the, "endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes on the several pursuits and professions in life."

In Indiana, the debate over where the college would be established carried over into the 1867 and 1869 sessions of the Indiana legislature. It was through the efforts of Senator Stein, during a special session convened on April 8, 1869, that the offer to establish the college in Tippecanoe County by John Purdue and other Tippecanoe County citizens was accepted. The bill establishing Purdue University was passed in the Senate on May 4 and the House on May 6, 1869. Stein also was instrumental in the adoption of the fifteenth amendment to the United States Constitution in Indiana. The fifteenth amendment was an attempt during the Reconstruction era to enfranchise America’s former slaves forbidding states from denying citizens the right to on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Unlike John Purdue, John A. Stein is little remembered today despite his foundational work in bringing Indiana’s Land Grant College to Tippecanoe County. However, on November 1, 1870 Stein was appointed to Purdue’s Board of Trustees. His work on the Board was such that he was named to the position of Secretary of the Board in the following January. He held the two posts until 1875 when a state law was passed that prevented anyone from being both a board member and a secretary or treasurer. He continued on as Secretary until 1885. It has been said that in these various capacities Stein is second only to John Purdue as the father of Purdue.

John A. Stein died on August 14, 1885, in Lafayette, just minutes after completing a poem concerning the death of Victor Hugo.


Kriebel, Robert C. Poets, Painters, Paupers, Fools: Indiana's Stein Family. Purdue University Press, 1990.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

John Stein correspondence regarding Board of Trustees business

 Unprocessed — Box: 1
Identifier: 20130530.1
Dates: 1873 - 1881; Majority of material found within 1872 - 1875